Ways Assassins Creed is Fading out

Assassin’s Creed is a franchise that has been struggling to justify its own existence of late.  Despite its plethora of available material covering the entire breadth of human history – we have seen the Crusades, the Renaissance, the Golden Age of Piracy, and now, the height of Pax Britannica – the franchise seems at times to be stagnant and lacking originality.  Why is that?

I would argue that Assassin’s Creed has declined since Black Flag – the adventure that saw us cruising around the Caribbean on our pirate ships.  Graphics have improved, things have been tweaked everywhere, and the packaging of the cities better capture the unique feel of the cities in question – there is no mistaking Syndicate’s London for Unity’s Paris, for instance; however, each game has a repetitive formula.

Is this a bad thing?

  • Not necessarily.  I still enjoy the games, I’m simply not awed by them.  There are several reasons.The overarching meta-game.  The first few assassin’s creed games tied together in an overarching world.  You were not really playing the assassin in the past, but an assassin in modern times reliving his ancestor’s memories, all for a purpose.  Spoiler alert, this all built to the 2012 End of World type scenario and the origins of mankind.  It was epic and sweeping in nature.  This is lost now.  The ‘outside the animus’ is now often a faceless protagonist.  Black Flag’s was a computer programmer from Montreal, in which the evil templars were profitting from exploiting the past for cheap profit (is this an underhanded poke by the Ubisoft programmers against their own employer?)
  • The plot: The story seems directionless now.  With the lack of said meta-game, the characters seem to lack focus.  Arno Dorion’s story was a revenge one, more or less.  Jacob Frye comes across as a bit of a thug.  We don’t have that epic philosophical battle quite the same way as the previous games, in which distinct views of liberty and control were being expressed and fought over.
  • Lame Enemies: The bad guys just don’t seem too bad guyish.  In Syndicate, the Templars have their evil industry, but they are most vividly expressed as red-dressed street thugs and hooligans.  Glorified pick pockets and racketeers.  This is a far cry from forces in previous games who had control over all the armies of the Third Crusade, then the Papacy of Europe in Assassin’s Creed II, and even the British Empire in Assassin’s Creed III.  These were world-shaping people, using precursor artifacts to enact word-changing events.  That scope was fascinating.  Now – they are pickpockets in London.
  • The side-cast: Assassins Creed II and Black Flag, I think, got the formula right.  Historical figures were presented in new and interesting light, doing things that are believable based on popular conceptions of these people.  Their historical prevalence is often tied to their connection to this epic assassins vs. templar struggle.  When playing Syndicate, I often felt like they were just desperate to include historical figure and shoved them towards me.  This was much nuanced, and felt forced.

The franchise is showing signs of fatigue.  Many people I know have given up on it.  It’s easy to see why – every game plays the same, and innovation is lacking.  I like all the games, I’m just not impressed by them anymore.